Maintaining a Safe Environment is a vital aspect of youth ministry. After all, if we are truly dedicated to helping teens grow in a relationship with Jesus Christ, we should also be dedicated to making sure that they can do so in a safe place. Here is a list of things to help you evaluate if your youth ministry is truly safe. (Please note that above all, you should know your Diocesan Safe Environment Policy and follow it).
- Maintain a positive attitude about Safe Environment. I’ll be honest, while I was sure to follow the Safe Environment policy for my Diocese, it was often a source of frustration for me because I had to spend a lot of time doing paper work and making sure that everyone was properly trained. (There were other things that I was more excited about: leading retreats, spending time with teenagers and planning creative Life Nights.) As youth ministers, it is important that we see that Safe Environments is central to our ministry, not a distraction. Your Core Team and teens will follow your lead.
- Be sure that all proper forms are turned in. Paperwork may not be the most fun activity in the world, but it is necessary when it comes to youth ministry. Be sure that parents fill out all proper forms for any activity beforehand and keep them organized. I recommend using a 3-ring binder and alphabetizing them by last name. This will be beneficial in the event that you need to find a teenager’s information in an emergency situation.
- Ensure proper screening of all potential volunteers. Screening potential Core Members or volunteers is your first opportunity to prevent possible child predators from having contact with the youth in your ministry. Have all possible volunteers fill out a standard application. (Your Diocese may have one that they would like you to use, so be sure to find out). Conduct face-to-face interviews with all prospective volunteers, and be sure to check their references. You will also want to complete criminal background checks and check local, state and federal sex offender registries.
- Define appropriate/inappropriate interactions between adults and minors. While screening is essential, it is not the only means to keep your ministry safe. Set guidelines for interactions in order to help the youth and adults feel safe when expressing affection in ministry. Having clear standards makes it easier to identify interactions that break the rules and detect anyone who does not have appropriate intentions with young people. (Your Diocese likely has a Code of Conduct for anyone involved in Youth Ministry. Be sure to know it and follow it).
- Keep activities public. Once we have set guidelines for interactions, it’s important that we monitor our ministry. Keeping activities public will help us to do this more easily. Properly monitoring your youth ministry will help you to detect problems before they turn into a greater incident and keep both the youth and adults safe. Some ways to do this are to involve more than one adult in each activity, remove obstructions from doors and windows, and keep unused rooms locked to prevent anyone from using them. Of course, if you see something that is inappropriate, be sure to take proper action.
- Provide proper training to all volunteers and minors in the ministry. It is essential that anyone ministering to youth be properly trained in the Safe Environment Policy for his or her Diocese. Training provides everyone with the tools to protect the youth and ensures that everyone knows the rules and expectations. Make sure that you, all volunteers and the teens are up-to-date with any Diocesan requirements when it comes to Safe Environment Training.
- Communicate to parents the Safe Environment Policy and what you have done to ensure proper training. Parents want to know to know that their children are safe. Let them know your Diocesan Safe Environment Policy and the steps you have taken to implement it. This can be as simple as sending out a mailer, mass e-mail or going over it at a parent meeting. Parents will appreciate this and be much more likely to support your youth ministry if you properly communicate.
These are just a few tips to help you maintain a Safe Environment for your youth ministry. Be sure to consult your Diocesan Office to stay up-to-date with all policies, guidelines and procedures. May God continue to bless you in this mission of leading teenagers closer to Christ.